Limerick are staring down the barrel of a final day survival shoot-out with Drogheda United, after tonight’s self-inflicted 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shamrock Rovers.
Although the final scoreline matches last week’s anaemic home capitulation at the hands of Derry City, Limerick’s performance level was significantly upped from that desperate showing in the first-half this evening.
The home side’s attacking intent was visible from the off, with both full-backs popping up regularly in the final third. Limerick enjoyed particular joy down the right-flank – through Ian Turner and Seán Kelly – where they won several corners. Seán Russell’s back-post deliveries caused ructions in the Rovers’ defence, who have looked vulnerable facing set-pieces of late. Vinny Faherty’s 18th minute header from one such delivery looked goalbound until it struck a teammate’s arm.
Fahery also had the ball in the net earlier in the half, only to see it correctly chalked off for offside. And Limerick’s prolific target man again ran afoul of the referee’s assistant just before the break, when his positioning in front of Rovers’ goalkeeper, Barry Murphy, led to Ian Turner’s strike also being ruled out for offside.
Yet, despite having the better of general play, Limerick were once again the architects of their own downfall in their own half. An insistence upon playing out from the back at inopportune times has long cost Limerick goals, dating back to the early days of the Stuart Taylor regime. So it was again this evening. Robbie Williams opted to play a hospital pass to Shane Duggan, in the face of a high Rovers press, allowing Brandon Miele to pick the Limerick captain’s pocket, one-two with Ryan Brennan, and score from the edge of the area – etching his name on the scoresheet for the third consecutive game against tonight’s hosts.
Moments later, Brennan hit the bar with a stunning long-range drive, fashioned from an excellent extended Rovers passing sequence. Limerick were reeling.
And then, just after the half-hour mark, madness struck again in the Limerick defence. In response to more Rovers pressing, Limerick goalkeeper, Freddy Hall, made two appalling ill-judged attempts to find a team-mate with a short pass – the second of which led to a poorly-cleared cross and the concession of a free-kick on the edge of the area. That free-kick was expertly curled into Hall’s top-right corner by veteran midfielder, Stephen McPhail. Hall remonstrated viciously with his wall. He should have sourced a mirror at half-time instead.
Limerick manager, Martin Russell, responded by removing the ineffectual number ten, Lee J Lynch, at half-time. Dean Clarke, who started on the left this evening, joined Faherty up top in a 4-4-2, with substitute, Shane Tracy, tasked with patrolling the left-flank alongside the manager’s son.
Aside from a hairy moment in the opening seconds, when Dean Clarke snatched at a glorious opportunity from a Shaun Kelly cutback, this change of shape played into Rovers’ hands – who weren’t about to concede a two-goal lead for the second straight week.
Limerick’s sacrifice of a midfielder for a extra striker ceded control of the midfield to the visitors and reduced the hosts to a series of aimless long punts and deep crosses in the vague direction of Vinny Faherty.
Aside from another poorly defended set-piece just after the hour-mark – when Paul O’Conor found himself free at the back post from a Russell free-kick, only to head wide – Rovers saw out the remainder of a pretty tepid second half very comfortably. Indeed they should have added further gloss to the result late on, when Danny North could only toe-poke an excellent David Webster cross into Hall’s hands.
And so, after two consecutive home defeats, Limerick go into the final day needing a win away to Sligo Rovers – and hoping that Drogheda drop points away to Rovers – to avoid automatic relegation. Galway United could also be drawn into the play-off mix if they fail to get a result away to the now-safe Bray Wanderers tomorrow evening. The consolation for Limerick is that Sligo now look safe too, by dint of tonight’s away victory at St. Pats – and their superior goal difference. Drogheda’s opponents, Rovers, on the other hand, remain extremely motivated to prevail in the race against Cork City for second spot. Roll on next Friday.